Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 25
 
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
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MAKING A SPLASH: Princeton University men’s track star Donn Cabral competes in a steeplechase race this season. Earlier this month, sophomore Cabral, who took up the event this spring, placed second in the steeplechase at the NCAA Championship meet in Eugene, Ore. This week, Cabral will be competing in the USA Track Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

PU’s Cabral Making a Splash in Steeplechase, Takes 2nd at NCAAs, Headed to USA Meet

Bill Alden

Donn Cabral was dragged into giving the steeplechase a try this spring for the Princeton University men’s track team.

“I wasn’t too excited about it even though I knew I could be good at it,” said sophomore Cabral reflecting on his debut in the gut-busting 3,000-meter event that features a series of barriers and water jumps.

“My first steeplechase was against teammate Trevor Van Ackeren; he is a good runner and a great athlete. He kicked my butt; he beat me by 10 seconds.”

Undeterred by that shaky debut, Cabral beat the competition all spring in his new event, taking first at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal Championships and placing second at the NCAA East regional meet.

Cabral took another major step in his meteoric rise up the steeplechase ladder as he placed second in the NCAA Championships earlier this month in Eugene, Ore. in a time of 8:38.90.

This week, Cabral will see how he stacks up against the very best steeplechasers in the county as he competes in the USA Track Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

The native of Glastonbury, Conn. is glad now that the Princeton coaches pushed him into the event.

“I am really glad coach [assistant coach Steve Dolan] forced me to stick with it,” said Cabral. “As I ran more of them I got better and better.”

Cabral’s success this spring in the steeplechase mirrors how he burst on the scene in Connecticut running circles.

“In freshman year of high school, I decided to go out for track because I wanted to improve my sprinting because I was always the slowest guy on my soccer team,” recalled Cabral.

“Once I got on the team; I could see how I had distance talent. I ran the 1,600 and 3,200 and I improved pretty steadily. I was impressing the coaches. That summer, I became a true runner. I got into training. That fall, I did well in cross country. I enjoyed being fast and in shape; I really enjoyed pushing myself.”

Displaying his natural talent and drive, Cabral ended up winning three Connecticut Class LL cross country state titles and the Footlocker Northeast title. On the track, he was a national champion in the indoor two-mile and 5,000.

When it came to choosing where to run in college, the New England product was torn between Harvard and Princeton.

“It was close between Harvard and Princeton; I went back and forth for a month,” said Cabral. “I trusted the coach at Princeton. I didn’t want to be in the city where I couldn’t run on soft trails. I wanted to walk out my dorm room and go on a training run. I also liked the team members I had met; I wanted to be part of that experience.”

Unfortunately, due to an injury he picked up while water skiing in the summer after his senior year of high school, Cabral had to wait through a delay before starting his college running experience.

“It was tougher than I realized at the time,” said Cabral, referring to the rehab program he underwent upon arriving at Princeton.

“After you get used to running every day for years, it is tough. Running becomes an addiction with no bad side effects. I just wasn’t myself; it also hurt my studies. I felt like a bad teammate; I was an upper level recruit who could have made an impact.”

Once he was able to train again, Cabral didn’t make the impact he had hoped. “I started to run again in October or November,” said Cabral, who did qualify for the NCAA regional in the 5,000 in the spring of his freshman year.

“I was excited to be back; I always thought I would have that really good race but it never happened.”

Over the fall and winter of his sophomore year, Cabral had some good races as he placed sixth in the Ivy Heptagonal cross country championships and then took second in the Indoor Heps in both the 3,000 and 5,000.

This spring, though, Cabral has found another gear. “Something has just clicked recently,” asserted Cabral. “I jumped my mileage from 90 miles a week to 100. I became more invested in my training; I have more focus across all aspects of training and life.”

Cabral’s focus was apparent at the NCAA Championships earlier this month in Eugene, Ore. as he posted the best time in the semis in the steeplechase and then placed second in the finals even though he was feeling a little off.

“I didn’t feel great on the day; I didn’t get that light, bouncy feeling I sometimes get,” said Cabral who took a spill on one of the water jumps.

“I did fall but that wasn’t why I finished second; the fall was the effect of not being at my best. If I can be slightly off and be second in the country, I am pretty happy. I have come a long way in a year and a half.”

The next day, Cabral showed how far he has come when he fought off some stiffness to take sixth in the 5,000.

“I felt sore but once we got going I started to feel good,” recalled Cabral. “I had the pep I was looking for the day before. The pace was moderate; it felt like a walk to me. In the middle of the race, things started to string out and I moved up to the front pack and ran well.”

All in all, Cabral was happy with how he ran at Oregon. “I was very, very happy with what I did; it was a once in a lifetime experience running in front of 13,000 people at Hayward Field,” said Cabral.

“I am not content; I may have left something on the track. I have come back to where I want to be.”

After competing in the U.S. meet this week, Cabral will take another step in his journey to get where he wants to be in the world of track.

“In July, I’ll be running for Team USA in the North America, Central America, and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) Under 23 Track and Field Championships; it is great to get a chance to represent your country,” said Cabral, noting that he has posted the sixth fastest steeplechase time in the nation this year. “My ultimate goal is to be an Olympian and represent the country on the biggest stage.”

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